Meet the photographers redefining camera phone photography

trope mobile edition
(Image credit: Trope)

In the latest series of books published by Chicago-based publishing house Trope, three photographers share images taken using camera phones as their primary tool. Celebrating the work of Cocu Liu (Vol. 1), Neal Kumar (Vol. 2) and Jess Angell (Vol. 3) these books demonstrate that fine art photos don’t need to be taken on expensive cameras.

The first of the three books showcase the photography of Cocu Liu, a Beijing native who’s won multiple international photography awards and has been featured by Apple. His images document his travels around the world, using different styles of photography to capture a scene. Compiling a mix of dramatic cityscapes, abstract views and minimalist black and white shots, Liu really brings attention to the power of mobile photography.

Read more: Best camera phones 

His mobile photography work started using the iPhone 5 and has evolved with the iPhone 6, iPhone 7+, Huawei P20 Pro and the Oneplus One. In the book he explains, “There were plenty of limitations, like how it could (or couldn’t) handle light. Winter was hard; cold really affected the battery life. Mobile cameras have come so far since then - there’s been huge progress even in the last couple of years.” 

With so many mobile editing tools to experiment with, Liu has transferred his love of analog photography into his mobile captures. Using mobile apps such as Lightroom and Photoshop, he achieves a "Koda-chrome type" color palette which is instantly recognizable throughout his work.

Volume 2 in the series focuses on the work of Neal Kumar who's shot for clients such as Marriott, Gucci and the Mexico Board of Tourism. When he’s not snapping away on his phone, he works as a dermatologist, writes teaching guides on photography and holds talks and photo walks for brands such as Apple. 

Kumar’s work includes travel and urban photography. While constantly pushing the boundaries of what mobile technology can do, he demonstrates his eye for composition, always striving to achieve what mobile images “should” look like. 

Recording his travels around the world, the book includes pictures taken in Chicago, New York, Santorini, Tokyo and London. His images are vibrant and colorful while remaining close to "real life". Kumar’s attitude to photography is instinctive yet often follows a similar approach. In the intro, Kumar says, “I often find myself first looking for an interesting frame, using anything from urban structures to nature. From there, the scene has to capture my attention in another way; with depth, details or colors. Finally if possible I scan around for any possible subject to have inside the frame, which may be a person or an element that can create a foreground.”

The third and final book in the Trope Mobile Edition centers on the photography of Jess Angell, widely known as Miss Underground. Her work documents the London Underground in an abandoned state, featuring empty escalators, deserted tunnels and sci-fi-inspired scenes.

Miss Underground's love for capturing the underground started a decade but back then it was just for fun. Soon she “started to appreciate the tunnels, escalators and stairs themselves. I found myself examining the architecture of the individual stations - the lines and details of the escalators, the handrails - and looking at the difference between them. I started to get up early on the weekend for a better chance of photographing the stations without people around.”

For so many people living in London, the underground is just a means to get from A to B, but for Miss Underground, it has catapulted her photographic work into the limelight. In one day, her Instagram, following grew from 8,000 to 24,000 and now she has over 47,500 followers. Jess has had the opportunity to take photos of the U-Bahn in Berlin, the Metro in Paris and the Subway in New York but she always returns to the London Underground. 

Each book is made up of 59 pages of beautiful imagery and an intro written by the photographer. Almost every page features a full-size image and lists where the images are taken. Cocu Liu's book even goes as far as to document which camera phone was used for each picture - you might be surprised that most are taken on early iPhone models. 

These three photographers prove that the best camera is the one you have on you. The benefits of shooting with a mobile phone mean you can blend into a crowd, capture more candid pictures, plus you don’t have to carry around bulky equipment. Camera phones have not only revolutionized the way we take, edit and share images but they have made photography more accessible for everyone.

Published by Trope, this series of books is the first to feature purely mobile photography. Trope is a platform for image-makers, creators, storytellers and imaginative business minds. It publishes high-quality content, elevates up-and-coming talent, sheds light on those in the shadows, and exposes hidden, undiscovered gems. The mobile edition will be available to buy from the website or Amazon on 7th September in the U.S.A and later in the month in the U.K.

To see the latest work from these photographers, you can follow their Instagram accounts, @cocu_liu, @nealkumar and @missunderground. You can see a sneak preview of the books below. 

Cocu Liu - Volume 1

(Image credit: © Cocu Liu - Trope Publishing Co)

(Image credit: © Cocu Liu - Trope Publishing Co)

Neal Kumar - Volume 2

(Image credit: © Neal Kumar - Trope Publishing Co)

(Image credit: © Neal Kumar - Trope Publishing Co)

Miss Underground - Volume 3

(Image credit: © Jess Angell - Trope Publishing Co)

(Image credit: © Jess Angell - Trope Publishing Co)

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.